Disasters and emergencies offer major transformative moments that challenge us to refine the true essence of what we want humanity to be about.
I see 2 diverging mentalities out of which we can respond in these situations: either out of a reflex of fear, isolation and scarcity, or out of a practice of cooperation, creativity, resource sharing, curiosity and compassion.
In addition to the question of how we collectively respond to the scary coronavirus pandemic that we're facing at the moment, this challenge is permanently up in a big way for our entire species with our climate emergency. My personal belief is that if we continue to inhabit the scarcity and fear reflex as we respond to climate chaos, our species will go extinct, but that if we choose the cooperative path we have the chance to not only survive but grow up into something even more beautiful.
Naomi Klein popularized the term "disaster capitalism" in her book The Shock Doctrine,
to describe how large corporations powerfully organize themselves to be ready to take advantage of disasters in order to take over and privatize social support systems for profit.
For example, private charter schools used the shock wave of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to take over the public school system and privatize it, reducing over 100 public schools to less than 10. And international agricultural companies used the prolonged devastation of the Iraq War to destroy traditional sustainable farming systems and force sales of GMO seeds and agricultural chemicals to Iraqi farmers.
I think there is a major lesson to be learned from disaster capitalists. When a disaster hits, in a very short time long-reaching decisions are made about massive resource use, who lives and who dies, power structures, infrastructure. Whoever is placed and prepared to make those decisions gets to exert powerful influence on the future for decades to come. So we need an alternative to disaster capitalism: disaster cooperativism.
In disaster cooperativism, we propagate a culture of mutual aid which allows us to nurture cooperative businesses, communities, skills, attitudes and infrastructure so that when emergencies and disasters arrive we are ready to attract resources and attention to our kind of response.
Imagine the many different ways this can happen, with our food systems, energy systems, cash and barter economic lives, buildings, transportation, education, healthcare, conflict resolution, mental health, child and elderly care. If we can get successful small-scale coops going in these areas of community need (and recognize and support and learn from those who already have them going), then we will have the expertise in place to scale it up and meet a sudden massive increase in need when the inflection point of each related emergency arises.
I think that we'll find that if we can find the courage to live out disaster cooperativism as one of our guiding stories, the rapid change it enables might be the fastest way towards the regenerative ways of life that we all know we need but have been too complacent to stand up for while awash in the consumerist trance of modern America. Inside the threat of the coronavirus might be nested this kind of seed if we can live up to it.